Somalia’s security forces ended a seven-hour firefight before dawn on Wednesday, killing five al-Shabaab militants who assaulted a hotel near the presidential palace in Mogadishu the night before, Somalia’s federal government announced.
Five militants wearing khaki police uniforms approached the SYL Hotel before opening fire and lobbing hand grenades, witnesses told multiple news outlets. Fighting ended around 3:30 a.m. local time (01:30 GMT), a member of Somalia’s federal parliament based near the hotel told The Defense Post.
All five militants were “neutralized” by security forces according to a statement by Somalia’s presidency spokesperson. The final death toll is not yet clear, but at least two members of the security forces, two civilians and a former judge were killed in the attack, according to a statement by Somalia’s Ministry of Information.
Firefight between security forces and suspected al-Shabaab militants at the SYL Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia lasted until the early morning hours, sources told @DefensePost. All five militants killed, also at least two sec force members, one former judge, and two civilians pic.twitter.com/DyuFcL5FUH
— Jared Szuba (@JM_Szuba) December 11, 2019
Captain Mohammad Ismail Warsame of the Somali prime minister’s security detail was among those killed in the attack. Abdulkadir Omar Abdi, a former chief appeals court judge, was also killed, according to Abdirizak Mohamed, a member of Somalia’s Federal Parliament, who spoke to The Defense Post from Mogadishu.
The operation to retake the hotel “included officers from the Presidential Guard, police and the national intelligence special forces,” according to the statement, which was provided to The Defense Post.
Al-Shabaab took credit for the attack, claiming its fighters killed 25 people and wounded at least 39 others.
Gunfire erupts downtown
The SYL Hotel is in a relatively secure area of the city which also is home to the prime minister’s offices.
The complex, which is frequented by diplomats, has come under attack by al-Shabaab militants before, most recently in a 2016 car bombing attack. Security has improved in the neighborhood in recent years, and this is the first time the hotel has been assaulted solely by gunmen.
“I was close to the hotel when the gunfire broke out and we managed to turn our vehicle swiftly,” one witness, Abdukadir Ahmed, told AFP on Tuesday evening.
“The security forces around the palace checkpoints were firing heavy machine guns but we don’t exactly know who was fighting who,” he added.
Local police told Reuters that they returned fire from the hotel’s main gate after gunmen opened fire on them and began hurling hand grenades.
Voice of America journalist Harun Maruf reported witnesses as saying that about five attackers clothed in security forces’ uniforms and armed with small arms and hand grenades assaulted the hotel around 7 p.m.
— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) December 10, 2019
The Associated Press first reported Tuesday night that all five gunmen had been killed in the battle, three near the presidential residence and then another two in the hotel’s parking lot.
MP Mohamed told The Defense Post that as of 11:30 p.m. local time (2030 GMT), he could still hear gunfire from his home roughly 200 meters from the hotel.
Mohamed later confirmed to The Defense Post that the fighting concluded around 3:30 a.m. local time.
“The security perimeter of the hotel is not that good, so anybody can walk in,” Mohamed said.
Many of the wounded were taken to Recep Tayyip Erdogan Training and Research Hospital, he said.
Tuesday’s attack came just one day after the United States military killed a senior Shabaab leader and wounded one other person in a drone strike on a vehicle in the country’s south. AFRICOM assessed at the time that no civilians were believed to have been killed in the strike.
The drone strike was carried out in cooperation with Somalia’s federal government, according to AFRICOM. It is unclear if the incidents are related.
U.S. strikes in Somalia surged after President Donald Trump declared southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in April 2017, according to rights group Amnesty International.
Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government. The Somali army, which largely relies on African Union Mission in Somalia forces for military support, is regularly targeted.
The group was routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong AMISOM mission, and has had to abandon most of its strongholds, but it still controls vast rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.
This story was updated on December 10 and 11 with additional information.
With reporting from AFP